An American business tycoon, investor, aviator, aerospace engineer, inventor, filmmaker and philanthropist.
His father had invented the two-headed oil drill bit (the Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit) that revolutionised oil exploration in the early part of the 20th century. The bits were leased and remained the property of the Hughes Tool Company.
Howard was the only child and perhaps a child prodigy; he built Houston’s first wireless radio transmitter at age 11. At 12 an article in the local newspaper reported that Howard had built a motorised bicycle. He had his first flying lesson at 14.
His mother died as a complication of an ectopic pregnancy in 1922. His father died of a heart attack in 1924.
Howard received 75% of his father’s estate. He was declared an emancipated minor on his 19th birthday. In his will written following his 19th birthday he included the creation of a medical research laboratory.
A very enthusiastic golfer, he had a handicap of three during most of his twenties.
He married Ella Rice on 05-06-1925. They moved to Los Angeles so that Howard could start a career in the film industry.
The first two films are considered successful; indeed he won the first Academy Award for the Best Director of a comedy picture. Further films followed that were also nominated for Academy Awards. Perhaps one of his most famous films was ‘Hells Angels’, about World War l in the air. Originally filmed as a silent film; Howard decided to re-record much of the film with sound between 1927 and 1930. Parts were also colourised. Controversial, it was a very high grossing film for the time. However the investment was never fully recovered.
Many other films were produced in subsequent years including ‘Scarface’ 1932, ‘The Outlaw’ 1943. For a while he was involved with RKO; Pictures, Studios, Theatres, and Radio Network.
Another significant source of income for the Hughes Empire were the investments in real estate. He amassed significant undeveloped land around Las Vegas.
Howard’s enthusiasm for flying, aeroplanes, record breaking, airlines, aerospace and the defence industry resulted in many awards, prizes and significant advances in design and construction.
There was a near death accident whilst flying the XF 11 following the failure of the counter rotating propeller in July 1946. Recovery took many months; the doctors considered it a miracle whilst Howard put it down to the consumption of freshly squeezed orange juice.
‘Spruce Goose’ see above.
Post-war Hughes extended Hughes Aircraft and formed Hughes Aerospace Group, the Hughes Space and Communication Group and the Hughes Space Systems Division. Over the subsequent years these groups changed their names and roles.
Hughes quietly purchased a majority share in Trans World Airlines (TWA) during 1939.
Having worked with Lockheed during his 1938 round the world record breaking flight he requested that the Company secretly design and build what we now know as the Constellation. TWA bought the first 40 off the production line. Due to various wranglings Hughes was forced to sell his holdings in TWA by a court ruling in 1966.
In 1970 he purchased Air West, which he renamed Hughes Air West. This was acquired by and merged with Republic Airlines which in turn was acquired by Northwest Airlines and in turn merged into Delta Airlines.
Hughes’ marriage to Ella failed when she filed for divorce in 1929. He infamously dated many famous women including Billie Dove, Bette Davis, Ava Gardener, Olivia de Haviland, Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Gene Tierney. He proposed to Joan Fontaine several times. In January 1957 he married Jean Peters.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute was founded in 1953 and became an area of conflict between Hughes and the Internal Revenue Service, which he eventually won.
Bizarrely here is a link between Howard Hughes, Richard Nixon and the Watergate Affair.
Sadly Howard’s life ended in a certain amount of mystery associated with his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, physical decline, drug misuse, becoming a recluse and death.
A remarkable life of a remarkable man.